Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband is a high-ranking executive at a Fortune 50 company and I’m a stay-at-home mom with a 12-year-old daughter. Our daughter turns 13 next week, and because of that my husband believes she can be eligible for “performance bonuses” for getting good grades, completing chores, and putting in her best effort in her extracurricular activities. My biggest issue is the bonus she can earn at the end of 2022 could be $5,000. Doesn’t that seem like an absurd amount of money for a 13-year-old? My husband laughs it off by saying we have the disposable income, so let’s use it to help motivate our kid. Who’s right?
—Too Much Money
Dear Too Much,
Are we really out here giving teenagers corporate-sized yearly bonuses for doing the bare minimum? What’s next — giving out prizes for brushing her teeth every morning? Nobody pays me to wash the dishes, take out the trash, or clean up my dog’s poop — so why should I pay my kids to do the same? That’s the very least they can do for living under my roof rent-free. Heck, I’d venture to say that a sizable percentage of the grownups reading this didn’t receive a year-end bonus at their jobs that approached $5,000.
In fairness, the easiest money to spend is someone else’s, because maybe $5,000 to your family is comparable to $50 to someone like me. Either way, I believe if you’re going to pay a kid (regardless of the amount), it should be done for going above and beyond the call of duty. What that looks like will differ in each family, but I hope we can all agree that simple housework ain’t it.
One of the main goals in raising children is to ensure they become valuable members of society. Do you think having a child believe she’s entitled to compensation or rewards for basically showing up accomplishes that? We have to do better, or else the next generation of kids will grow up expecting handouts.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My in-laws have developed a pattern of concealing when anyone in their household is sick. When I was pregnant with my first, they hid that they were all suffering from a nasty stomach bug. When we inevitably caught it too, we received an explanation that they didn’t want us to cancel our visit. I recently had my second baby, and asked them to please delay their visit to see the newborn. They did not take my request kindly. I felt pretty guilty until I found out that one of their children had been sent home from school with a fever earlier that week. After Thanksgiving, both my toddler and newborn came home sick. One of their cousins had had a high fever during the family get-together. We’re in a global pandemic, for crying out loud! Surely hiding that one is ill where a newborn is concerned was bad behavior before too, right? I know they would be very offended if we prefaced every visit with a call to make sure everyone is healthy. Is there a way to put an end to this, short of never visiting on the chance somebody is sick? Can you give me a script to politely but firmly tell them I can no longer trust them with my and my children’s health?
—Paranoid Pandemic Parent
Let’s be clear about something—contrary to what your signoff indicates, there’s nothing paranoid about wanting to protect your family. Also, based on what we’re experiencing right now with COVID, the behavior of your in-laws is downright selfish and reckless. Heck, I can’t even take my kids to basketball practice without ensuring they pass health and safety screenings. Sure, that’s annoying for me and them, but that’s the world we live in now. The absolute bare minimum your in-laws should do is be forthright about their family’s health.
You asked for a script, which I’ll gladly give you—but why should you be the one to deliver the news to them? Shouldn’t it be your partner’s job? If I was in your shoes, I would expect my wife to deal with her parents’ behavior, not me. However, that’s all under the assumption that your partner feels the same way you do. If that’s the case, then demand (not ask) that your partner deals with your in-laws accordingly.
If it requires you to deal with the in-laws yourself for whatever reason, then you can say something like this, “Before we come by, I need to have assurances that everyone is healthy. The last few times we saw each other, my family became ill due to one of your family members being sick. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and I simply cannot risk the health of my children again. In order for us to visit, I’ll need for your family to get tested for COVID and provide me with negative test results. My children are too young to be vaccinated. I love you and I want to see you, but this is the way it must be going forward.”
You mentioned that your in-laws will be “very offended” if you approached them like this. Do you want to know what my response is? Oh well.
You’re not being a jerk for standing up for your family. I’ve done something similar with extended family and friends who wanted to visit, and like well-adjusted adults, they were all completely fine with it. I’m tired of grownups like your in-laws who believe the world revolves around them and their feelings. If they want to see you, they’ll need to grow up and play by your rules. Not to mention, you’ve been burned in the past multiple times by them! You should feel more than justified to draw a line in the sand.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My family has a history of mental health issues. My grandfather, my mother, one of my brothers, and I have all suffered mental breakdowns at least once in our lives. I have always strived not to stigmatize mental health issues, particularly since my loved ones and I have had them. But when my partner and I recently tried having children, it triggered another mental breakdown for me, and issues I hadn’t dealt with from my childhood came up to the surface. Since then, I’ve decided I no longer want to have children. I reflected and determined it would not be fair to risk having a child who would suffer as I had. While I have always tried to manage my mental health, I have found there are no guarantees. I also worry the stress of trying to parent might be more than I can manage.
This has led my partner and me to divorce, as he desperately wants his own kids and did not expect me to change my stance on the issue. We’d been together for over ten years so the loss of my marriage hurts deeply, but I understand that my change of heart was unfair and my partner deserves someone with the same life goals. I’m trying to separate amicably, but understandably there is pain and hurt involved. My partner has accused me of abandoning him, of not pushing myself towards further self-growth by overcoming my insecurities around parenthood, etc. His charge that I am placing too much worry on potential mental health issues bothers me since anxiety is a perpetual part of my life. Am I perpetuating the same stigma against mental health issues by not wanting to have a child possibly impacted by them? I know many women make the decision not to have kids for various reasons, but walking away from a marriage of so many years makes me feel like maybe he’s right and I just couldn’t beat my issues and used this as an excuse to run away.
—Cowardly or Conscientious
Dear C or C,
As a fellow mental illness sufferer (clinical depression), I had similar concerns before I became a dad. Would I damage them emotionally if they saw me depressed? Would they be more prone to becoming clinically depressed since I am? It weighed on me for years even after my daughters arrived, but I made the decision to not let my mental demons rule me. I went to regular therapy and did my part to address everything that held me back, and I feel as if I’m a pretty damn good dad today.
I wouldn’t go as far as calling you cowardly, because I’d be the last person to shame someone with mental illness—but I think we can both agree that pulling the bait and switch on your husband must be really hard on him, and he has every reason to be upset. Why not go to therapy to address your issues before pulling the plug on your marriage? That seems like the very least you could do to save a decade-long marriage.
From my vantage point, it seems as if you used your mental illness as an excuse to get out of your marriage. If it was important to you, I think you would have done more to try to save it. You’ve also automatically assumed the worst-case outcome for having kids, when it’s possible you’d surprise yourself by becoming a great mom. I’m so thankful that I didn’t listen to the voices in my head that said I wouldn’t be a good dad, because I couldn’t imagine my life without my children. I feel sad that you won’t allow yourself the same opportunity to try.
Technically you’re not asking for any advice here, but I’m going to give you some anyway. If you want to experience any semblance of joy in your life, you have to stop living in fear. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but if we’re constantly scared of what it will bring, it’s safe to say it won’t be a good day. Get the mental health help that you need as soon as possible, because it will only get worse from here if you don’t.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 18-year-old niece, “Megan,” regularly babysits my 6-year-old daughter, “Olivia.” Recently, Megan came to me after taking care of Olivia one night and said that she was concerned about Olivia’s well-being. I was surprised, because Olivia is generally a happy, well-behaved child. I asked Megan why she was worried, and Megan pointed to some drawings Olivia had made. I thought that they were normal, cute drawings for a little girl to make (self-portraits, animals, houses), but Megan said that she thought the trees in the pictures looked phallic. Then Megan proceeded to ask me if anyone had exposed themselves to Olivia, which really took me aback. I have no reason to believe that anyone has exposed themselves to, let alone abused Olivia, and I told Megan that. Olivia is 6, she isn’t going to draw in a photorealistic style, and just because some trees look vaguely like penises in drawings, it doesn’t mean she is being abused. Megan warned me to keep an eye on my husband to make sure that he isn’t doing anything inappropriate. I told Megan that if anyone harms Olivia, I will deal with it, and she should mind her own business. I’m shaken up. I don’t know if I want Megan to continue babysitting Olivia. That Megan would read something so sinister into a child’s crude drawings and baselessly accuse my husband of violating his own daughter bothers me. However, she IS my niece. Do I allow Megan to keep babysitting Olivia?
Dear Babysitter Blues,
Even though her accusations are extremely inflammatory, I think it’s important to note that your niece is likely coming from a good place. She wants your daughter to be safe, and honestly, I commend her for speaking up if something concerned her. How would you feel if your daughter was being abused and your niece knew about it and said nothing? “See something, say something,” right? So, even if you believe there is a 99.9 percent chance your husband wouldn’t do anything inappropriate, you should investigate it for all of the reasons I mentioned above. Stranger things have happened in life, right?
However, I also think there’s something else to be aware of. You know how some people accuse others of things that they’ve done or experienced? Maybe your niece is projecting some abuse that she experienced in her life on your daughter. This is purely conjecture on my part, of course—but I think it’s more likely your daughter could have experienced abuse (whether by your husband, or someone else). How you choose to handle that is up to you, as you could investigate it on your own or do nothing—but it could warrant a deep dive on your part if you plan to keep using Megan as a babysitter.
Based on the tone of your letter, it seems to me that you’ve already made up your mind that you don’t want Megan to babysit your young daughter anymore, and that’s totally fine. If that’s the case, you don’t have to make a scene in front of Megan and/or her parents—just say that you found another babysitter that you plan to use going forward and leave it at that. However, in this COVID world that we’re stuck in now, finding babysitters is a little more challenging than it was before the pandemic. Hiring a stranger to watch over a child is nerve-wracking since you have very little idea how they spend their time when they’re not at your house. At least Megan is a part of your family and there should be a level of trust there.
Now that I’ve laid out every side of this, presuming your own research into Megan’s accusations doesn’t amount to anything, I would advise you to stick it out with Megan for the time being. You already created boundaries by telling her not to bring this up again, and as long as she follows through, everything should be fine. If she accuses your husband of something again and you have a conversation with Megan to make sure that she is safe and isn’t experiencing abuse herself, then I would move on from her for good.
More Advice From Slate
We have a very smart, creative 13-year-old daughter. I recently read the texts between her and her first boyfriend—something she knows I do—and was surprised. She tells him that her life is screwed up and that she feels unworthy and unloved. This does not seem to describe our relationship. Should I talk to her about this?